We already know that when we view our abilities as plastic, or malleable and always growing, we (and our kids) approach roadblocks and challenges in a more constructive way. The question, then, is how to pass a growth mindset along so students have the tools to persevere in the face of hardships at school. A recent study by Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck began to answer this question. They found that the way a parent approaches experiences of failure predicts how students perceived “being smart.” In other words, parents’ “failure mindsets” were related to whether children viewed their own abilities as fixed or plastic.
Haimovitz and Dweck point out that a parent’s approach to failure is visible to students through parent behavior towards student failure. How a parent reacts when a student comes home with not-so-good news has a big impact on how that student feels about his or her abilities and intelligence. Some adults have a “failure-is-debilitating” view, which is the belief that failure is a reflection of our ability and is a setback. Others have a view of failure as an opportunity and a time of growth that leads to increased ability and mastery down the road. When parents focus on students’ current performance or fixed ability in the face of failure, kids do the same. When we focus on the opportunity at hand – the learning and mastery that comes after the initial failure – then kids begin to develop the growth mindset we know is so important for academic and socio-emotional success.
All students experience failure at some point in their educational careers, whether it’s a low exam grade or not getting the lead role in the winter play. According to the study, we should react to students’ failure with support for their learning and mastery. This may include providing strategies for different study methods, seeking outside support, promoting interest and enjoyment of material beyond quantifiable performance, or simply highlighting the idea that learning is an ongoing process. Let’s not forget that the journey is more important than the destination.
Photo: Erin Resso for flickr cc